Today’s world has two major economic zones: the Pacific economic zone and the Atlantic economic zone. But with the development and prosperity of the Silk Road Economic Belt, China and Muslim-majority countries along the belt will become the world’s most important economic zone. The 57 Muslim countries along the President Xi Jinping-proposed Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Maritime Century Silk Road account for one-fifth of the world’s population, 70 percent of the world’s energy and 50 percent of the natural resources. Added to this is the economic vitality of China.
But the Silk Road Economic Belt also faces some serious security problems. How then can the safety of the Silk Road Economic Belt be ensured?
The United States uses its military power and bases around the world to defend its global status and the power of the dollar. But China’s military spending is only one-sixth of the US. So how can China protect its hundreds of billions of dollars of investment on highways, railways, power stations and other infrastructure projects along the Belt and Road routes, which make up two-thirds of the world’s landmass? The Middle East has been caught in wars and chaos over the past more than decades. It has suffered the consequences of the American invasion of Iraq and the “Arab Spring”, which resulted in enormous loss to China in Libya, Syria, Sudan and Iraq.
Beijing does not need military power or bases to protect the Belt and Road Initiative, because China and the Islamic countries along the Silk Road Economic Belt can work together to build a new world of tolerance, harmony and peaceful coexistence. As Xi has suggested, the Belt and Road project should be built as a road of unity and mutual trust, a road of equality and mutual benefit, a road of tolerance and win-win cooperation. It will be an economic belt along which countries of different ethnic groups and beliefs live in peace and develop together. Xi has set five goals in the building of the Belt and Road project: connection of policies, roads, trade, currencies and people’s hearts.
According to a Chinese saying: “If you want to become rich, you must first build a road.” Therefore, to win the hearts of the people living along the Belt and Road, China should build a network of highways and high-speed railways.
China and Pakistan have already decided to build a $46-billion, 3,000-kilometer China-Pakistan Economic Corridor from the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region through the Karakoram Mountains and Pakistan’s Balochistan to the Gwadar Port, linking China, Pakistan and the Arab world.
Apart from the investment in infrastructure, China should also continue its tradition of building hospitals and sending medical teams to the developing countries along the Belt and Road. One of the most popular hospitals in Afghanistan is the China Hospital in Kandahar, which treats Afghan civilians as well as wounded soldiers and fighters from all factions engaged in civil strife in the country.
Development forms the core of peace. It is hoped that through the development and prosperity of the initiative, the Islamic world will be free of war, invasions, terrorism, and civil and sectarian conflicts. And hopefully, all the countries along the Belt and Road can experience peace and prosperity.
The author, Li Xiguang, is director of Tsinghua University International Center for Communication. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily and english.gov.cn.